Several proposed “priority” bike/ped routes get price tags

The N&O has the story on these proposed routes, which would cost a total of $5.4M if they are all approved. There’s a pamphlet (PDF) which has a map of the proposed trails and a better description than the N&O blurb.

The key takeaway for me seems to be a prioritization of utility over recreation (with the exception of the Ellerbe trail). Note that the majority of the length of these routes is not actual paved greenway surface; North Ellerbe seems like it would be “natural surface” (which I read as “packed dirt”), and many of the other projects include the addition of sidewalks and bike lanes along current roadways.

Here’s my read on these proposed trails:

  • Pearsontown Trail extension (2.3 miles, $1.2 million) Think of this as linking the ATT near Elmira Park with NC Central, Grant Park, and the Haytai Heritage Center near the Durham Freeway. About half of the route is an “on-street extension” (read: sidewalks) along extant roads between these points, but it looks like there will be a proper greenway constructed through the abandoned low rises just north of NC Central which will connect campus and the Haytai Heritage Center. This should improve pedestrian access to the Golden Belt / new DPD HQ area from points south of 147. One seemingly large omission here is the “gap” between this route and the currently way underutilized “Blue Bridge,” which would presumably be addressed in the future by another trail (not listed here).
  • Bryant Bridge/ North Good Creek West Trail (1.8 miles, $1.3 million) This seems like a logical companion to the first trail, on the opposite side of 147, linking the north entrance of “The Blue Bridge” to nearby neighborhoods via mostly sidewalk and bike lane improvements. There’s also a greenway component that would run from Eastway Elementary up to Drew Street. Taken together, these last two projects create a much more walkable north/south route that parallels Alston on either side of the freeway.
  • Sandy Creek Trail extension (1 mile, $917,600) This one is a greenway extension, which connects the existing Sandy Creek Trail (which currently ends at Pickett Rd) up to Cornwallis along the water easement. This dumps you out a short walk from Duke’s Al Buehler trail, which has an entrance on Cornwallis on the other side of 15-501. This should really improve the pedestrian route from the Pickett Rd area to Duke’s campus (and to locations adjacent to campus, since campus itself is of course quite walkable). The Al Buehler trail, while technically bikeable, is steep packed gravel, so the route won’t be ideal for casual cyclists (although this should be a good alternative for more experienced riders). Sadly there’s no connection from Sandy Creek Park to points south of 15-501 (i.e. the Super Target / Southgate area), so the current trail remains recreational only.
  • North Ellerbe Creek Trail (5 miles, $1.3 million) This is described as a “natural surface walking trail” through mostly public land in the watershed. To me this seems like one of the least useful from a transit perspective, given that it runs through mostly undeveloped land, but it’s a potentially big recreational win due to its connection to the ECWA Glennstone Nature Preserve and its more isolated nature.
  • Third Fork Creek Trail extension (1 mile, $937,600) A continuation of the existing trail. Currently the trail mostly parallels Hope Valley Rd., starting at Woodcroft in the south, but its use as a connection is limited since it terminates at Southern Boundaries Park near MLKJr. This extension gets it to Cornwallis, which is a bit closer to (but still not close enough to, IMO) the ATT and should help connect some difficult to reach parts of South Durham to the trail system.

I’d be happy to see any of these projects completed, and most of these recommendations seem pretty sound to me. Of course, they don’t quite get all the way to where I’d want them to go, but hopefully some day we’ll be able to bridge those gaps.

I think my biggest disappointment with this list is that the Blue Bridge remains linked to nothing on the south side. I’m glad the infrastructure north of the bridge is in this list (and the northern side is indeed worse off at the moment), but the south side of the bridge is also a pedestrian no-man’s land. You can see where pedestrians have blazed unofficial trails through the brush because there aren’t any maintained paths to walk on. I’d love to know why addressing this issue is considered lower priority than e.g. the Ellerbe Creek extension, which to my mind will not be nearly as useful as the other projects on this list. EDIT: in the comments below, John Goebel indicates that these projects are NOT being placed in front of the connecting infrastructure south of the bridge; rather they’re being added to the list after that project and the West Ellerbe extension (connecting up near Costco under I-85) which are already further along in the planning phase.

Also, during my hiatus you may have heard about the sexual assaults on the Ellerbe Creek Trail. Although a greenway system is a big win for both recreation and transportation, it will do little good if people feel too unsafe to use it. I do have concerns that some of the proposed trails (most specifically the North Ellerbe route) run through remote areas that have some real potential for safety concerns. As we think about expanding our trail system, it’s important to consider how we plan to how to keep it safe for users.

2 thoughts on “Several proposed “priority” bike/ped routes get price tags”

  1. First, let me commend you for a very thorough analysis of the trails proposal. You are absolutely right that utility – that is, pedestrian or bicycle transportation – was considered more important than recreation for four of the five trails. I think the following information would be useful, and I plan to post this on our DOST web page and Facebook page as well as in a reply to your blog.
    The proposed trails are actually not the next five trails for Durham. First, the West Ellerbe Creek Extension from Guess Road, under I-85 and along a branch of Ellerbe Creek and along Broad Street to Stadium Drive, is about to be constructed. Difficulties with easements have delayed this project but construction should start late this winter or early spring. Next, the link to the R. Kelly Bryant Jr. Bridge is also in the works. The proposed trail runs from the end of the current Rocky Creek Trail (which begins just south of Fayetteville Street on the American Tobacco Trail and ends on the Apex Highway – US 55 just south of NCCU) to the Bryant Bridge. This project has been presented to the MPO for scoring and could be eligible for some state funding. It could be the second trail built. DOST and Durham Parks and recreation has a Trail Master Plan (http://durhamnc.gov/DocumentCenter/Home/View/2673) with over 180 miles of proposed trails for Durham, but we have had trouble getting the City to build trails as quickly as we would like.
    Then there is the Duke Belt Line, which DOST strongly backs and has long listed as a priority trial. The big problem with this trail is that Norfolk Southern Railroad wants $7.2 million for a 100-foot wide corridor that runs about 1.7 miles. That is about $8/sq foot, or $350,000 per acre. Since we already have some Federal money for this, the price, while high, is probably not too far out of line with other downtown properties. DOST was specifically told not to include this trail in the “priority list” as the city hopes that someone besides them will pay for and build this trail. DOST would like the City to step up and find a way to contribute more than it has. To date the City has contributed $75,000 as their match for the $220,000 provided through a TIGER Grant from the US Department of Transportation.
    Over 30 years ago Durham started building trails, and at one time the American Tobacco Trail was a model for other communities across the state. The problem is that Durham has not made trails a priority, and communities like Raleigh, Charlotte and Greensboro have well outpaced us. Durham waits around to get state or federal money, then pitches in a little of their own to build trails. As a result, we have added less that one mile of trail per year in the past 30 years. Even the latest Parks and Recreation Master Plan had trails listed as one of their highest priorities, yet the City Council and Mayor have not listened. Prior to this “emergency priority trail plan” that the City has just received, there was no money in the ten-year CIP planning other than that already allocated for West Ellerbe Creek.
    The City Manager would like to do business as usual and build trails by borrowing money whenever the city has the opportunity to get some other money and build a trail. We have seen what this strategy gets us – less than a mile of trail a year. Many of us feel like we need something like a bond to jump-start the process and get some badly needed trails on the ground. Washington, DC was recently listed as the “healthiest” city in the country. The reason is the number of parks and the trails that connect them. Thousands of Washingtonians ride their bikes to work, jog the trails at lunch, and walk to shop and eat. We see trails as a means of helping all of the citizens of Durham live healthier lives.
    Durham residents can help support trails by contacting our City Council members and telling them how important trails are. It seems that trail users often take our trails for granted and are not as vocal as they need to be to keep our trails well-maintained and to add new trails to the system. Residents can also attend DOST Meetings (3rd Wednesday or every month at City Hall) and perhaps serve on DOST.

    1. Thanks for the comment, John.

      I’ve been aware of both the West Ellerbe Creek Extension and the Duke Belt Line (I think I’ve actually mentioned them on this blog; ah, there’s the Ellerbe extension in the comments over here) but I was under the impression that both of these projects had essentially intractable acquisition problems that would delay progress indefinitely.

      For me personally, West Ellerbe is arguably one of the most important missing pieces of bike/ped infrastructure in the city. Getting north of I-85 in that area is a trial and the Interstate imposes a massive restriction on pedestrian (and bicycle) movement. I’m ecstatic to hear that it’s progressing!

      Likewise, thanks for the status update on the trails around the bridge. I’d seen these on planning maps before, but I’ve seen a *lot* of wishful thinking on planning maps for a long time, and I really didn’t know where these projects stood. I’ll need to go edit my post to reflect that it’s in the queue. The demand for infrastructure in this area is clearly there already, people have clearly been bushwacking through the unmaintained right of way (in the same way that people sometimes use the rail corridor as an unofficial connection in other parts of the city).

      I’m really glad to see the push to get something done in the areas surrounding the Blue Bridge now, because it’s long been a source of irritation for me that a $2.2M bridge can find funding in an area where even basic sidewalks for some reason cannot. Yes, I know the city only paid for about $500k of that, and yes, I’m aware of the political significance of that project, but that thing has been done for five years now and it still has very little utility due to the lack of connecting infrastructure on either side.

      I sense the political winds in Durham are blowing in an even more liberal direction, and issues of economic disparity seem likely to gain the most traction. Focusing on adding utility in historically under-served communities (rather than on recreation) seems likely to play well with the new Council.

      I know a lot of people are trying hard to get things built in Durham. I really do appreciate all of the effort.

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